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[casi] Doctors tell how children's deaths became propaganda

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Doctors tell how children's deaths became propaganda
By Matthew McAllester in Baghdad
May 24 2003

Throughout the 13 years of United Nations sanctions on Iraq that were ended on Thursday, Iraqi 
doctors told the world that the sanctions were the sole cause for the rocketing mortality rate 
among Iraqi children.

"It is one of the results of the embargo," Dr Ghassam Rashid al-Baya said on May 9, 2001, at 
Baghdad's Ibn al-Baladi Hospital, just after a dehydrated baby named Ali Hussein died on his 
treatment table. "This is a crime on Iraq."

It was a scene repeated in hundreds of articles by reporters who were always escorted by minders 
from Saddam Hussein's Ministry of Information.

Now free to speak, the doctors at two Baghdad hospitals, including Ibn al-Baladi, tell a very 
different story.

Along with parents of dead children, they said this week that Saddam turned the children's deaths 
into propaganda, notably by forcing hospitals to save babies' corpses to have them publicly paraded.

All the evidence is that the spike in children's deaths was tragically real - roughly, a doubling 
of the mortality rate during the 1990s, humanitarian organisations estimate. But the reason has 
been fiercely argued, and new accounts by Iraqi doctors and parents will alter the debate.

Under the sanctions regime, "we had the ability to get all the drugs we needed", said Ibn 
al-Baladi's chief resident, Dr Hussein Shihab. "Instead of that, Saddam Hussein spent all the money 
on his military force and put all the fault on the USA. Yes, of course the sanctions hurt - but not 
too much, because we are a rich country and we have the ability to get everything we can by money. 
But instead, he spent it on his palaces."

Washington and others have long blamed Saddam's spending habits for the poor health of Iraqis. For 
years, the Iraqi government, some Western officials and the anti-sanctions movement said UN 
restrictions on Iraqi imports and exports were at fault.

Doctors said they were forced to refrigerate dead babies in hospital morgues until the authorities 
were ready to gather the little corpses for monthly parades in small coffins on the roofs of taxis 
for the benefit of Iraqi state television and visiting journalists.

The parents were ordered to wail with grief - no matter how many weeks had passed since their 
babies had died - and to shout to the cameras that the sanctions had killed their children, the 
doctors said. Afterwards, the parents would be rewarded with food or money.

"I am one of the doctors who was forced to tell something wrong, that these children died from the 
fault of the UN," Dr Shihab said, sitting in his hospital's staff room with his deputy, another 
doctor and one of the hospital's administrators.

"But I am afraid if I tell the true thing . . ." Dr Shihab paused. Using the present tense in 
English to describe the prewar past, he continued: "They will kill me. Me and my family and my 
uncle and my aunt - everyone."

The last baby parade involving Ibn al-Baladi was in 2001, said Kamal Khadoum, a hospital 
administrator. He did not know why the practice was stopped.

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